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Tourists attracted to glitzy world of Real Housewives of Dubai

The Real Housewives of Dubai Bravo TV
The first episode of The Real Housewives of Dubai aired on June 1
  • Reality TV franchise documents lifestyles of ultra-wealthy women
  • Show tipped to ‘convince undecided leisure tourists to visit’
  • The first episode has sparked a backlash in the emirate

The Real Housewives of Dubai, the latest instalment in the hit reality TV franchise, will help the UAE attract more tourists and creative professionals, according to branding experts.

The franchise documents the lives of ultra-wealthy women in various cities around the world. The Dubai show, made by US network Bravo, is the first foray into the Middle East – although its first episode has sparked a backlash in the emirate.

“There will likely be an immediate positive impact on local fashion and lifestyle brands if the show follows similar lines as the productions in other cities, showing off local designers, great restaurants and leisure experiences,” said Graeme Erens, CEO and executive creative director of Dubai-based Genius Loci, a collective of leisure and destination brand designers.

“It’ll certainly convince undecided leisure tourists to visit, as episodes are always shot to show off the best and most wonderful things to do.”

Erens added that the exposure of the Gulf Arab city to a wider audience will “positively add to Brand Dubai’s recognition globally” and likely convince the international TV production industry that the city is a “capable and diverse” place to shoot.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it fuels an interest in remote working professionals, designers, script writers, promoters and musicians looking for new accessible audiences and locations to move to Dubai,” he said.

In the UAE, however, the release of the first episode on June 1 prompted criticism from homemakers and influencers, who said it was not a true representation of Dubai housewives.

Sara Al Madani, the only one of the six core cast members who is a UAE national, defended the show in a video posted on Instagram, stressing that it was “not here to represent the housewives of the UAE, or their lifestyles, or to represent the housewives of non-Emiratis living in the UAE”.

Speaking in both English and Arabic, she said: “The show is about six women and these women are representing themselves. It’s not representation of a whole country.

“I’m not representing my country. But I am from the UAE. I’m a by-product of the UAE and I’m proud that I’m from the UAE. I’m proud to be from this beautiful country that has taught a lot of people and a lot of countries around the world how to respect, be tolerant, be understanding and offer equality to everyone.”

The Real Housewives tag that triggered some criticism was simply “a franchise name”, she said. “If you want to franchise McDonald’s in the UAE you cannot name it Lovely Burger.” 

“This is a franchise of an international legacy – one of the biggest shows in the world, and for the first time they chose the UAE. When you have a franchise, you cannot change the name. The show is about entertainment, fun, bringing light to your home, and bringing joy.”

Erens added: “From a brand perspective, Dubai is well known globally as a destination offering accessible luxury and glamorous lifestyles. Real Housewives is a famous franchise with good production values – whether you like the content or not, it’s polished and addictive. This is a fantastic collaboration that will promote the city of Dubai as the setting of the story.

“If the production quality and storytelling is upheld with this iteration it’ll show Dubai’s capability in the non-scripted TV arena and set the stage for others to follow suit.” 

The Middle East was also a talking point for entertainment industry figures at the Cannes film festival in May, especially after Saudi Arabia unveiled big-ticket incentives to lure Hollywood and Bollywood producers to the kingdom.

Real Housewives producer Andy Cohen said in a statement: “Everything’s bigger in Dubai, and I couldn’t be more excited to launch … in a city I’ve been fascinated by for years, with an outstanding group of friends as our guides.”

Meet the Real Housewives

‘They don’t hate me because I’m beautiful, they hate me because they’re basic

Kenyan-born Chanel Ayan is Dubai’s first black supermodel, who has worked for top brands such as Cartier, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and Valentino – as well as her namesake Chanel. She also owns a talent agency and a make-up and skincare line with celebrity make-up artist Toni Malt. Ayan is married to former model and artist Luca Salves, whom she moved to Dubai with 18 years ago. She described herself in an interview with AP as “outgoing, funny, crazy and insanely hot.”

‘The desert is ruthless, but nothing is more savage than me’

Caroline Brooks was “one of the first female real estate directors in the area” according to Bravo. Recently spotted on the red carpet at the Cannes film festival, the Afro-Latina single mother from Massachusetts initially moved to Dubai with her now ex-husband and continued to live in the emirate after the break up. “It’s very expensive to cheat on me,” she tells viewers in the trailer. “Ask my exes.”

‘In the city of gold, nothing shines brighter than me’

Stylist-turned-reality-star Caroline Stanbury previously appeared on Bravo’s Ladies of London series. The 46-year-old socialite, formerly married to Turkish millionaire Cem Habib, moved from the UK to Dubai with her new husband Sergio Carrallo, a 27-year-old former Real Madrid player. Stanbury told Page Six that she finds it “sad” people, including some of her castmates, have judged her for marrying a man 19 years younger than her.

‘The only thing you can take from me are notes’

Fashion designer Lesa Milan moved from Jamaica to Miami before relocating to Dubai eight years ago. Married to millionaire financier and property developer Richard Hall, Milan runs her own line of luxury maternity clothes called Mina Roe. The former Miss Jamaica winner’s pieces have reportedly been worn by the likes of Beyoncé, Serena Williams, Katy Perry and Gigi Hadid. She’s also the founder of My Little Makers, which creates toys, books and media for young children.

‘If you think money can’t buy you happiness, you clearly haven’t been to Dubai’

Lebanese-born, Texas-raised Nina Ali is a glamorous mother of three and the founder of a fruitcake business. She moved to Dubai with her husband Munaf Ali, CEO of UAE-based bitcoin mining software firm Phoenix Store. The company reportedly signed a $650 million order for crypto mining rigs in 2021.

‘A woman should be two things, who and what she wants’

Sara Al Madani is a serial entrepreneur, public speaker, investor and leadership expert. She started her first business at the age of 15 and has earned numerous job titles and accolades since, from fashion designer and CEO, to becoming the youngest board member of the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce. A twice-divorced single mother, Al Madani is also the co-founder and CEO of HalaHi, a personalised platform that offers video shoutouts from celebrities to their fans. She’s also a partner at investment management company Cahero Holding and director and a partner at social media company Social Fish. 

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